Posts Tagged ‘Food’

The factory farm: conspicuous invisibility

In Excerpts, Thoughts on March 31, 2011 at 7:09 am

Perhaps the most terrifying construction of our built environment is the factory farm. No other complex is so conspicuous and simultaneously so shrouded. So brutal and so unknown. Our economic system feeds it. Our government funds it. Our senators protect it.

Writer and teacher James Reeves on the most recent case:

“In Florida, a series of videos and photos recently captured the horrible things that corporate farms do to the animals we eat. Most of us are vaguely aware of the claustrophobia and brutality, the genetically deformed creatures tipped over in tiny cages; these videos simply illustrate the filth and slaughter of mechanized farming in detail. Senator Jim Norman responded to these upsetting images with a logical proposal: Ban photography on farms. Senate Bill 1246 would prohibit “entering onto a farm and making any audio record, photograph, or video record at the farm without the owner’s written consent.”

For a written portrait of the system—and a very thoughtful discussion of our doubts and questions—read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.

Shrinking ourselves—and our animals—for space travel

In Excerpts, Thoughts on March 25, 2011 at 10:47 am

Some animals would be terrifying if they were any bigger than they are. A 7-foot praying mantis, for instance. Or a 2-ton frog. But making big animals small immediately renders them adorable. I fell in love a long time ago with the idea of a cow the size of a Scottish terrier. Or a triceratops the size of a rabbit.

Now, in the surprisingly silly world of serious science, a few researchers are exploring the idea of shrinking both humans and our livestock, not to make them cuter but for more practical applications. Donald Platt, of the Florida Institute for Technology:

If we can make livestock smaller we can take some with us and then have them available at our new home, perhaps on Mars. It may even be possible to modify ourselves and make humanity smaller. This would be very beneficial for space travel where mass and volume are limited, and a surface base on another planet where gravity is less and resources are scarce.

GOOD’s Food Hub explores this idea’s implication on food, and mentions a project by Arne Hendriks called The Incredible Shrinking Man. Part of it is a restaurant concept called The Disproportionate Restaurant.

We have already established that you would only need one coffee bean for an espresso and one chicken could feed up to a hundred people. To better understand what that means we’re planning to roast an entire ostrich carcass as if it were a chicken.

Our built environment would obviously be affected. At 50 cm (19.7 inches), existing structures would all seem like skyscrapers; distances would stretch out—walking a couple of miles would suddenly be quite formidable. The meaning of “human-scale” would change. Eventually, though we’d be limited in strength and speed, our new size would open up new ways to organize cities, perhaps building urban passageways around and through the now abandoned (or maybe retrofitted) structures. Perhaps a 30-story building would become a 90-story building, as each floor was divided into three.

If not all animals shrunk with us, and I don’t see how they could be, the natural environment would pose problems too. Coyotes, hawks, rats, stray dogs. We’d still be bigger than a praying mantis, but some of these others would become slightly harder to deal with.

As we’ll shrink, our environment and everything in it will appear a lot larger. The fear of large animals and objects is called megalophobia. Shrinking mankind could involve a growth in the number of megalophobiacs, especially in relation to other creatures.

Then there’s the issue of the brain.

And the brain would have to function at slightly under 30 grams (and not with the 1400 grams we have at present). That’s about the size of a cat brain. No need to stress the fact that we’ll need to find a solution for that one.

It’s probably important to note that while this is enjoyable to explore, I don’t support any efforts to actually genetically modify human beings; history teaches us that our idealistic, technological fixes usually backfire significantly. It is interesting to note, however, that the built environment has been retrofitted for little people before—in Ypsilanti, Michigan. During World War II.


Last image by Robert Therrien.

Tracking the conscious carnivore’s worst enemy

In Thoughts on January 26, 2011 at 2:35 pm

One of the worst things about traveling is the food. Not once you’ve reached your destination—once you’re there, your friend takes you to a tapas place and orders a small plate of what he calls “Meat Candy.” Or  you happily discover a market that offers all things local, including a breakfast pizza topped with a sunny-side-up egg.

But while en route, it’s another story. Airport food is atrociously overpriced, especially for anything “healthy,” and fast-food makes up 99% of the offerings along our country’s interstates. Since I began eating only meat that’s been sourced appropriately (i.e. from small family farms that ensure humane treatment), fast food and most airport fare have been off the table. And I’ve never felt better. But a road trip is a conscious carnivore’s worst enemy. The only relief from the glow of the Golden Arches and hybrid KFC/Taco Bells are the occasional mom-and-pop sit-down restaurants—Uncle Mac’s, Kountry Kafe, Roadside Inn. Which might be local, but sure aren’t health-oriented or conscious of where their meat comes from.

So on a recent drive, tracing our way from Chicago to Kansas City, I was thinking about our limited options and mourning the loss of all the legitimately good restaurants we were passing by at 76 mph. Maybe there weren’t many, but there had to be a few, even along this route through the Midwest. And it struck me that both of us were missing out: we had to suffer shitty, mass-produced, cholesterol bombs and they had to suffer pathetically low customer traffic, since fast-food  crowded them out of the roadtrip market a long time ago.

If only there were a Yelp for highways. A site where instead of a zipcode or city, you put in an interstate number, or a Point A and Point B. And it would bring up all the great restaurants there were from Chicago to Kansas City. Hours, menus, reviews. All the fixin’s.

I didn’t mention my idea until our final day in Kansas City, brunching at Blue Bird Bistro, a spacious, gorgeously decorated, corner eatery in Westside, not two blocks from our friend Derek’s house. Over spinach omelettes and blueberry pancakes and “really good bacon,” with the 8 hours back to Chicago on my mind, I briefly laid out my idea. A Yelp for the road. Derek said, Go look at the story by the door. I tried to explain further. Go look at it, he said. I did. It was a story about a couple who wrote a book called Healthy Highways, which is also now a website. It’s a catalog of healthy, locally owned restaurants along major travel routes all across the country. The latest edition has more than 2,800 entries. Blue Bird Bistro was featured, since it’s right off the 670/35 interchange, hence the newspaper story framed on their wall.

My idea had been taken. But I was happy to have a resource. So I went to, only to find that it’s a jumbled mess. Not at all a functional, search-and-ye-shall-find Yelp equivalent. This was a cluttered promo site: ONLY $1. SHIPPING. No Matter How Many Books You Order. (US ONLY. BOOKS ONLY). Plus Discount Prices. Everything was highlighted in highlighter yellow. It felt like browsing through an infomercial. Not a single tab was a Search function.

The authors wanted you to buy their book. Well, that’s fine. But with about 6 months in between road trips (I’ll assume that’s fairly accurate for the average American young person working full-time), you’re only getting a few trips in before the book’s out of date. Four at most. And how can Nikki and David Goldbeck know about every healthy roadside place anyway? If a site was built, foodies could create pages when they heard about a new place opening up. Even better, if it was built from the official Yelp platform, existing restaurant pages could be duplicated, even just tagged as “Highway Proximal” so that it appears on the “Roadtrip” page, which could next to the “Events” tab (they’ve even left room!).

Just when I think I’m still on to something, a search turns up Looks like what I was hoping for. Well designed. Prominent search function. No highlighter.

It may not turn up anything in Hannibal, MO (which may or may not mean anything), but it does find Canteen Lunch in the Alley, in Ottumwa, IA. Anyone heading through Iowa on 34 or 63 should check that out.

Commodities traders and industrial archaeologists

In Excerpts on January 13, 2011 at 5:46 pm

From Nicola Twilley, GOOD‘s food editor, on their newly launched Food Hub:

We believe food is too important a topic to restrict the conversation to the usual suspects. You’ll be as likely to meet a commodity trader, a synthetic biologist, or an industrial archaeologist as a chef or food activist on the GOOD Food hub. We promise to bring you a really exciting diversity of perspectives and a variety of voices, because both a neuroscientist and dishwasher have something interesting to tell us about what food is—and what it could be.

I like that.

More from Nicola here.